The latest results from the NHS Confidence Monitor are a stark portrayal of the government-funded end of the profession. It confirms the opinions expressed widely and informally. Sadly, it is not a surprise.
It reflects a weariness with the UDA system of accountability. It is now 10 years old, yet it seems likely to carry on for at least another three years. It reflects a lack of inspirational leadership and drive for a prosperous future, either from within the profession at representative level or at senior NHS management level (if such leadership exists, judging by the media-gagged status of the new chief dental officer).
Practice owners feel trapped on a downward spiral – any step they take is another step down. Associates know all too well the meaning of the phrase ‘cannon fodder’.
What are we doing?
But the one area the monitor does not venture, perhaps regrettably, is what those questioned plan to do about it.
All of the practice owners are independent contractors. They choose to contract to provide NHS services. It’s not compulsory, and it is not the law! If they genuinely feel this way about dentistry under the government cosh, should we ask what their plans are to change things?
If ever there is a need for a national campaign, it is one to drive home the benefits of self-funded dentistry. It does not have to be expensive. For the price of a newspaper and a small bottle of milk a day, most patients can access appropriate dental health maintenance.
So another question might be: what’s stopping you all?
There is a pervasive sense that underlying all of this is a fear of dealing with the patients directly and ‘selling’ them the benefits of your skill, care and time.
If this monitor is correct and assuming the political and fiscal climate does not change, this is only going to go on, and possibly get worse.
The time to plan for the storm (to build your ark as it were) is before the rain. What plans are these owners and associates making, I wonder?
Lessons to learn
This monitor could be thought of as depressing. Or, you could take it as an indication that the profession needs to start to rediscover itself. It needs to rediscover its professional pride. It needs to start to get real with what the government is really trying to do. It needs to be realistic about the chances of the government really investing in dentistry in any way, other than patients just walking through the door. Minimal firefighting of the massive problems is simply never going to work.
When you are bumping along on the bottom there is only one way. But you have to look up, reach up and step up. And it is the owners and the associates who have to take the first step.
How do you feel? Fancy having your say? The fourth NHS Confidence Monitor survey is now live, offering all dental professionals – whether in NHS or private practice – the opportunity to share their views on the future of NHS dentistry.
To take part visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/PracticePlanNHSConfidenceMonitor4 before the closing date of 31 July 2016. The survey should take approximately three minutes of your time.
For detailed results from the last three surveys, visit www.nhsdentistryinsights.co.uk. Here you can also access the discussions from Practice Plan’s previous Insights Panel, made up of key opinion leaders and experts from the dental profession who explore and debate the significance of the survey results and their implications for the future of NHS.